This wood is, of course, nowhere near Athens; the script is a positive maze of false leads. The wood is really located somewhere in the English midlands, possibly near Bletchley, where the great decoding machine was sited. Correction: this wood was located in the English midlands until oak, ash and thorn were chopped down to make room for a motorway a few years ago. However, since the wood existed only as a structure of the imagination, in the first place, it will remain, in the second place, as a green, decorative margin to the eternity the poet promised for himself. The English poet; his is, essentially, an English wood. It is the English wood.

The English wood is nothing like the dark, necromantic forest in which the Northern European imagination begins and ends, where its dead and the witches live, and Baba-yaga stalks about in her house with chicken’s feet looking for children in order to eat them. No. There is a qualitative, not a quantitative, difference between this wood and that forest.

The difference does not exist just because a wood contains fewer trees than a forest and covers less ground. That is just one of the causes of the difference and does not explain the effects of the difference.

For example, an English wood, however marvellous, however metamorphic, cannot, by definition, be trackless, although it might well be formidably labyrinthine. Yet there is always a way out of a maze, and, even if you cannot find it for a while, you know that it is there. A maze is a construct of the human mind, and not unlike it; lost in the wood, this analogy will always console. But to be lost in the forest is to be lost to this world, to be abandoned by the light, to lose yourself utterly with no guarantee you will either find yourself or else be found, to be committed against your will – or, worse, of your own desire – to a perpetual absence; from humanity, an existential catastrophe, for the forest is as infinitely boundless as the human heart.

But the wood is finite, a closure; you purposely mislay your way in the wood, for the sake of the pleasure of roving, the temporary confusion of direction is in the nature of a holiday from which you will come home refreshed, with your pockets full of nuts, your hands full of wildflowers and the cast feather of a bird in your cap. That forest is haunted; this wood is enchanted.[…]

The English wood offers us a glimpse of a green, unfallen world a little closer to Paradise than we are.

Such is the English wood in which we see the familiar fairies, the blundering fiancés, the rude mechanicals. This is the true Shakespearian wood – but it is not the wood of Shakespeare’s time, which did not know itself to be Shakespearian, and therefore felt no need to keep up appearances. No. The wood we have just described is that of nineteenth-century nostalgia, which disinfected the wood, cleansing it of the grave, hideous and elemental beings with which the superstition of an earlier age had filled it. Or, rather, denaturing, castrating these beings until they came to look just as they do in those photographs of fairy folk that so enraptured Conan Doyle. It is Mendelssohn’s wood.

“Enter these enchanted woods…” who could resist such a magical invitation?

However, as it turns out, the Victorians did not leave the woods in quite the state they might have wished to find them.

Angela Carter
Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Footprints through time

Where would Shakespeare have got if he had thought only of a specialized audience? What he did was to attempt to appeal on all levels, with something for the most rarefied intellectuals (who had read Montaigne) and very much more for those who could appreciate only sex and blood. I like to devise a plot that can have a moderately wide appeal. But take Eliot’s The Waste Land, very erudite, which, probably through its more popular elements and its basic rhetorical appeal, appealed to those who did not at first understand it but made themselves understand it. The poem, a terminus of Eliot’s polymathic travels, became a starting point for other people’s erudition. I think every author wants to make his audience. But it’s in his own image, and his primary audience is a mirror.

Anthony Burgess
Interview Paris Review, Spring 1973

These days I can’t get over being old. It’s new to me, that my life like a book has to end. And because I’ve always lived in books, lines and phrases others have written stay close to me. Shakespeare’s ‘Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds’ spoke as I tried to grasp how fragile a very old marriage is.

Myra Shapiro
Afterword to The Alteration of Love

writing

Where would Shakespeare have got if he had thought only of a specialized audience? What he did was to attempt to appeal on all levels, with something for the most rarefied intellectuals (who had read Montaigne) and very much more for those who could appreciate only sex and blood. I like to devise a plot that can have a moderately wide appeal. But take Eliot’s The Waste Land, very erudite, which, probably through its more popular elements and its basic rhetorical appeal, appealed to those who did not at first understand it but made themselves understand it. The poem, a terminus of Eliot’s polymathic travels, became a starting point for other people’s erudition. I think every author wants to make his audience. But it’s in his own image, and his primary audience is a mirror.

Anthony Burgess
Interview with John Cullinan in Paris Review spring 1973

23rd July

Living here with so many ghosts I feel like a caretaker of the restless dead – a protector of spirits who haunt my life – so that I’ve become my own haunted house, attempting communication with partially glimpsed movements at the edge of perception, or the sound of a creaking stair, or a noise in the attic which might only be the patter of falling rain…My ghosts can be cranky on occasion: they can whisper words, the meaning of which I’m unable to determine.

It’s been a long time since anyone treated them well –

#

So the Saturday evening play-party. With our friends from the local munch, people possessing the emotional bandwidth to comply with our safety standards, while sharing similar aesthetic tastes to ourselves.

Like a small film club, are we, eagerly awaiting the main attraction: crisps, freshly roasted nuts and popcorn are liberally distributed to ‘the audience’ in small china bowls. Missy A has been naughty and is to be disciplined while we watch. Furniture has been moved to accommodate this tableaux.

Seeing Missy A bent over a chair with her skirt hitched up is breathtaking. Hearing a hand slap against her buttocks, is so very arousing – how could it be otherwise? Savouring the slight trembling of flesh with each fresh impact. Her yelps of discomfort –

Then E rising to join T who is tiring. E has a riding crop. She takes T’s place. Her skin-head hair cut is intimidating. She uses the crop with consummate skill –

Yelps become cries. Missy’s poor glowing bum is criss-crossed with red stripes –

Missy’s now estranged husband used to take her to play-parties in the boot of their car. Almost nude, gagged and handcuffed, even in winter, she would endure this humiliation without complaint. His treatment of her became harsher and harsher, until she finally left him eighteen months ago.

It should serve as a lesson to us all, how quickly such consensual abuse can become pure abuse –

I’m reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre and his theory of emotions as ‘magic’. Because Missy has simply exchanged one sadist for another. The new man in her life allows his fantasies free rein. She is, it seems, one of life’s natural victims –

E’s skill with that crop is superlative. Her strokes are hard enough to mark Missy’s naked bum but not to break the skin. I can’t take my eyes from Missy, her tear-filled eyes, parted lips, writhing as if in the grip of some invisible power. Sex is inherently ritualistic, a symbolic act whose meanings extend beyond itself. And there can be no doubt that Missy’s submission is sexual, that she takes pleasure from E’s practiced flogging of her backside. And every face in ‘the audience’ is slightly flushed with sexual excitement as they look on. And my own arousal is equally obvious –

Finally, aftercare. Caresses, kisses, gentle stroking. A smile on Missy’s tear-stained face. She experienced some sort of climax near the end of her ‘punishment’, and all the tension is now drained from her.

I finish my popcorn (which incidentally is homemade) as E takes Missy upstairs to the bathroom to fix her make-up.

‘I hope they don’t wake the ghosts,’ I say to no one in particular.

And no one, as expected, bothers to reply.

#

Hamlet experienced an encounter with a ghost and it ended in massacre. Macbeth was confronted by Banquo’s ghost during a great banquet, and lost his peace of mind forever. It’s more than likely that Shakespeare’s ghosts are simply psychological manifestations of guilt – imagined apparitions, in other words.

But what of my ghosts?

Trish, for example?

She used to love me reading out loud to her. At bedtime I always had to read to her or she couldn’t sleep. On occasion she would perform an act of fellation upon me as I read –

She once described herself to me as ‘Terribly thin’. And her body, I must admit, was like a sabre slash in silk. As flat chested as a boy, was she. ‘You’re fine,’ I’d tell her. ‘I love you as you are.’ And then laid her back and performed cunnilingus on her for almost an hour –

I read her ‘The Story of O’ and we both got turned on by it. It was Christmas Eve I remember, and Trish guided me between her buttocks. I gently sodomized her for the first time while she masturbated herself.

We talked a lot about art, writing, music and cinema. One time I told her about André Gide, his enormous influence on the young, which sprang from his teaching that one’s only duty is to oneself, that one should never be ‘encumbered’, either by material possessions, memories or other people –

‘Often the best in us springs from the worst in us.’

And so I read ‘Isabelle’ to Trish, and we both visited le chateau de la Quartfourche with Gerard Lacase, and accompanied him on his quest for Isabelle in the grip of ‘amorous curiosity’.

Books, reading, more reading and fucking. ‘Why don’t you read me something you’ve written?’ she asked. It was a bridge too far for me. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Never that. It’s all too awful.’ But she insisted, so finally I recited some of the poems in ‘Summer Births’ from memory. And while the words spilled gently from my mouth like little lost souls, Trish fondled me erect and masturbated me –

Trish had always had a thing about India. For her it seemed a magical, mysterious, exotic place. One day she announced she was finally going to go there. She’d saved the money. She was going for six months – longer if she could!

And so she drifted from my life almost as casually as she’d drifted into it. And now she keeps company with the crowd of ghosts occupying this place; a spectre who loves to hear me read out loud late at night –

Hey, Moth, Come Eat the Flame

November 19, 2016

another-view-from-the-window

Diary 19th November

Fact is unstable by its very nature.

#

Visit to T yesterday. We spent Samhain at her enchanting home with its menagerie of dogs, cats and chickens. Trees surrounding the house were finally turning to the russet colours of autumn – and so near the end of November, too. It’s very peaceful here. And T is probably the maddest, but most contained woman I have ever met. She works such incredible magic. She is totally at one with her world and the people in it.

She points to a white feather on the ground beneath a chestnut tree. ‘That,’ she says, her voice gentle but totally sincere, ‘is an angel’s feather. It means good luck to us here today.’

And I feel she really believes this feather is fallen from an angel, not from the back of a near albino chicken clucking about in the undergrowth.

How I envy her the simplicity of her chosen lifestyle…

Two years ago her aunt was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. T concentrated single-mindedly on her aunt’s recovery day-in, day-out, for a period of four months. She said at the time, ‘I don’t know if it’ll do any good. These thing are either meant to be or not. We can only try to intervene. It’s all we can do…’

Her aunt’s doctors at Derriford hospital were astonished when a scan showed the cancer in remission. Within two months the cancer had gone and the aunt had made a full recovery. I cannot explain it, but T is convinced her “magic” worked – as it has done many other times in the past.

#

I have kept notebooks since my twelfth year. During periods of creative sterility, I look back across the years for ‘fresh’ inspiration. Like Dylan Thomas whose mature poems were plagiarised from his much younger self.

What, I wonder, would have been in Shakespeare’s notebook in the years leading up to Macbeth? It take no Oedipus to guess. Cats and toads as familiars to witches, rats without tails that gnaw holes in the bottoms of ships, mariners spell-bound for nine times nine weeks, the vaporous drop on the tip of the moon, plants the roots of which deprive us of reason, air-drawn daggers with gouts of blood, maddened horses that devour each other, charms of all sorts, from the sweltering venom of the toad to grease from a murderer’s gibbet, the strange phenomena of somnambulism, ghost-lore, the behavior of owls. And that is as nothin to the farrago of the notebook which might have preceded Lear!

#

Gillian Rogers was my first love. I remember still her kisses in the recreation ground after school, fiery things they were, that tasted incredibly of aniseed balls and chocolate, the taste of innocent sin…

2frostandsun

Diary 26th April

Very cold this morning. Expect to see Penguins on the patio…Polar bears in the sunken lane.

#

Yes, yes, the women in my life are powerful, liberated human beings. I take care of them well and pander to their needs – not because they could rip out my tonsils without uttering a word, but because I love them!

#

“If you can’t earn more, then you have to “need” less…!”

Sound advice given and overheard in the pub last Sunday. A gentleman farmer was talking to his son and his son’s fiancé. Nosey old bugger that I am, I was eavesdropping…

It was excellent, if old fashioned advice. The sort of thing that would have pleased my old grandpa in his day. Save your pennies, and the pounds save themselves was one of his favourites.

Except this is the 21st Century, and the banks have hiked bonuses for their most junior workers by as much as 150% in an effort to keep hold of young, talented employees!

According to Alice Leguay, co-founder at Emolument.com, “considering the serious downside and risk of being exposed to legal proceedings as regulation and legal enquiries come into play, the weight and stress of dealing with compliance processes and the lack of glamour of an industry largely held in contempt by the public and the press.” Larger bonuses are necessary…if not essential.

Oh, sweet cheeses, haven’t we been here before?

#

Sex in literature is as old as…well, as old as literature itself! It’s a common theme in the Christian bible, and the ancient Greeks loved to get down and dirty. Eros, after all, was a God. Although that said, the vast majority of ancient Greek writers were male…(Sappho, of course, was an exception – but more or less an honorary male). And these male writers paid a great deal of attention to the topics of love and lust, providing detailed information about sexuality.

Likewise the Latin classics put out by the ancient Romans. Here be some steamy stuff, indeed. Sallust’s portrait of Sempronia, for example, describes a woman indulging in casual sexual relationships who “had often committed many crimes of masculine audacity.”

In Shakespeare (my God, that name says it all!) the sex is “less in your face” much more discrete…But it’s still there! One thinks of Iago in Othello saying:

“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you, your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”

Today, sex is all around us. Consider, if you will, Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty”: sex scenes permeate the very fabric of this work; a single sexual encounter fills two whole pages; the detail is graphic, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. Thus we have:

“Howard, took hold of his cock and began the breech…as he entered Victoria…Howard pressed deeper…offering about half of his ample eight and a half inches…”

But an interesting novel for all of that. One filled with so many entertaining and poignant vignettes that Smith’s ability as a novelist is always clear. Her characters are alive, and their actions, with few exceptions, totally realistic. If anything, this novel is a tad overcrowded with characters and subplots…but worthwhile if only for the confrontation with that marvelous, eye watering eight-and-a-half inch cock!

Witchcraft…

August 1, 2014

witch2

“You have witchcraft in your lips.”

(William Shakespeare)

Henry V – Act 5, Scene 2